Oops, Oh-oh, Oh no & OMG
~ or ~
A Day with Emmett and Ruth Harder on FR1N09
By Marian Johns
Those of you who know Emmett Harder have undoubtedly heard some of his marvelous stories. Perhaps this tale can be added to his list of his life’s adventures.
Back in 2013, Ted Kalil led a Desert Explorer trip over FR1N09 in the San Bernardino National Forest. I had never been on it – never heard of it. Ted explained that it had been closed for many years because of washouts, but that it had recently been repaired and re-opened. The trail starts by the infant Santa Ana River just west of Seven Oaks (off of Hwy. 38 that goes from Mentone to Big Bear) and ends at Highway 330 which connects Highland to Running Springs.
The scenery along 1N09 is spectacular - with the San Bernardino Mts. looming high overhead and little streams to cross along the way. It is amazing how rugged these mountains are and they’re practically right in my own backyard. On a clear day there are some beautiful views of Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto.
So now, fast forward to April, 2020. Ruth and Emmett Harder have kindly been checking up on me every week or so because they know I’m alone now in the midst of this virus business. Yes, I do get lonely and I get cabin fever being cooped up here at home. So when Ruth called recently, I told her about Ted’s trip and asked if they might be up for a day trip in the San Bernardino Mts. She and Emmett agreed, so a couple of days later – April, 22, we met at their house and headed for Mentone and Hwy. 38 which we took up into the mountains.
We turned off for Seven Oaks about 11:00 a.m. and headed west on a paved road alongside the river. However, after two or three miles, the pavement ended and we began our 1N09 adventure. At first, we generally followed the Santa Ana River, but it was not accessible since it was far below us in a deep narrow canyon. Most of the way, I used 4 low because there were many steep up and down sections
About 12:15 we came to an awesome view down into the Bear Creek wash – a wide, boulder-strewn canyon with a pretty spot for lunch beside the creek. Unfortunately, someone else beat us to it so we continued on across the bridge and had lunch on the other side of the creek which isn’t so nice because you can’t see the creek from that spot. The bridge here is the only one from one end of 1N09 to the other, although there were many stream crossings.
During lunch, Emmett entertained me with some of his stories – one about falling seven stories when the scaffolding he was on collapsed during the construction of the San Dimas Dam - and a couple of others stories about the problems they had when he worked on the nearby Seven Oaks Dam.
After lunch we continued on and eventually reached Keller Cliff, a high, naked escarpment. It looks like this formation is made of similar material to that of Mormon Rocks.
Somewhere beyond Keller Cliff, Ruth let me know via the CB that they needed a bush break. So, I drove on down the trail about 1/10th of a mile and waited. Pretty soon Ruth came back on the CB and said they had a problem – a BIG PROBLEM that involved a tree that they had hit.
I quickly returned to them and found their truck over the bank at a 45° tilt with its grill smashed up against a tree. Evidently, when Emmett got out of the truck to find a bush, he thought he put it in park, but actually left it in drive. The truck then idled itself on over to the bank and took a nose dive; down it went – not far though – maybe 25 ft. before it hit the tree. Emmett saw what was happening and yelled at Ruth to step on the brake, but there was no way she could have done that because she was in the passenger seat. If it hadn’t been for that tree though, I believe they could have continued on down for hundreds of feet - ass over teakettle - and may not have survived.
Next, Emmett had to rescue poor Ruth and help her get out of the truck and back up to the top. That was no easy feat because of the steep slope and low overhanging branches. Once they were both back on terra firma Emmett used his “snatch strap” to connect my truck to his. We were both pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pull his truck back up.
The next obstacle was getting their truck to Hwy. 330 where they could call AAA. Much of the way, Emmett was able to coast downhill. On the uphill sections we strapped him on to my truck. We traveled slowly in this manner for what seemed like miles. Ruth rode with me and we amused ourselves by counting the creeks we crossed; we lost count about number 12 or 13. However, I’m fairly certain that many of these are just seasonal, but it was nice to see so much water this spring.
It must have been almost 5:00 by the time we reached the end of 1N09 at Hwy. 330. By then we were all worn out – especially Emmett who did most of the work; he was exhausted. When Ruth called AAA she was told a tow truck would be there in about half an hour. She was also warned that she and Emmett would not be allowed to ride in the tow truck because of Covid 19. Luckily, they had me and luckily, I had recently (Sept. 2019) bought my four door/five seat, 4x4 Tacoma. While their truck was being towed to a repair shop, I drove them on home. Then I drove myself home, fed two dogs, had leftover lunch for dinner and went to bed. What a day it had been! ~ Marian
By Dave Burdick
On December 1907 Christmas came early for James Hart and brothers Hitt when they discovered a rich vein of gold. Claims were filed, a town laid out and by mid February the boom town boosted 700 people. The town had one first class hotel – Norton House, four boardinghouses and six saloons. The larger mines were the Oro Belle, Jumbo, and Big Chief. After the first year the population started to decline, however mining continued through 1917. In the 1920’s fine clay was mined near the Big Chief until the 1950’s.
The next gold rush did not take place until the price of gold deregulated in the 1980s. It was then when Canadian Viceroy Gold came in and spent nine years in exploration, raising money, mine design, and getting permits. They completed EIS/ESR and BLM permits in 1990. The mine was constructed, and the first gold poured in 1992. The mine ran until about 2000 when the gold value dropped below production cost.
When I first saw the legendary town, cemetery and mine, it looked about as it does today. The processing mill and electrical lines had been removed. The only signs of mining were two large pits, the Oro Belle, and Jumbo, and the scars on the mountain. The pits were blocked off and four wheelers had the run of the area. There was a BLM road which went from Lanfair Valley through the center of the mine to the Piute Mountains which was the first thing to be blocked off.
In the late 20-teens gold prices set a new record high and there signs of new activity, first one drill rig, then ten. In October 2019 the new mine operator started Phase 1 of new mining activity, expecting gold to be poured by the end of the year. Last Fall a chainlink fence about five miles long went up with big gates and a guard. It was bound to happen.
This Spring I decided to take a ride over to the Hart site to have a look and the road was blocked. I made a couple of inquiries, and learned that the mine and town site is not in the Mojave Preserve, not their jurisdiction. It is in the Castle Mountain National Monument (BLM jurisdiction). Also, most of the mine and town is on patented or private land. There are four different jurisdictions in this area.
Phase 2 of the mine plan will cover the town site, the Clampus Vitus Monument, and the fireplace (which may have been from the Norton House Hotel) with a mountain of “overburden” dirt. I returned and took photos while I could.
The BLM archaeologist informed me that the cemetery is not allowed to be disturbed, with a 300 foot buffer around it.
I believe that this area is one of the most beautiful around. This is my Disneyland and my favorite attraction is Castle Mountain Adventure. ~ Dave
East Mojave Heritage Trail
By John Marnell
The East Mojave Heritage Trail in four segments was created by Dennis G. Casebier in the late 1980s and into the early ‘90s. Each part of about 160 miles was featured in a guide book that contained historic, flora, and geologic information along with a detailed road log and mileages. With the implementation of the 1994 Desert Protection Act the trail was cut in 13 places by newly created wildernesses thus making the guide books useless as strictly navigational instructions. The experienced navigator, with good research, could still make use of many portions of the EMHT as Nelson Miller and others have shown. Today, however, a new and comprehensive set of trail route guidelines are being created to once again make most of the original aspects of the EMHT readily available with detailed instructions, maps, and a GPS track dedicated to keeping the user on a legal route utilizing wilderness bypasses.
Mr. Billy Creech, from Riverside, became interested in the EMHT a couple of years ago and has spent countless hours researching wilderness maps and communicating with many knowledgeable people to keep this project moving forward. Some months ago, Billy maneuvered around the East Mojave on the newly modified EMHT to assess its viability and equally importantly to determine if the roads and trails used previously were passable for the average four-wheeler. He found a few sections certainly more challenging than anticipated, with many parts showing little evidence of being driven on in years. He also, infrequently, came upon some of the original rock cairns used to mark turns that are still in place these 30 years later - all in all it was a great remote desert off-highway
experience. Billy wrote up his “adventure” a few months back and you can find it here: https://expeditionportal.com/the-east-mojave-heritage-trail/
Today, May 28th, work is continuing as refinements continue to both the maps and routing detail. It is anticipated that the first two segments “Needles to Ivanpah” and “Ivanpah to Rocky Ridge” will be completed before the end of June. Those of you that are fortunate to own a set of the four guide books will be able to coordinate the bypass, alternate routes, and maps with your individual books. Those who do not have the books, they will soon be available on the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association website under “store.” MDHCA.org. Additionally, the Mojave River Valley Museum has the books and you can call them to place an order (760) 256-5452. Use of the appropriate EMHT guidebook is essential to finding and staying on the correct route
The Old Woman Arrives
by Claudia Heller
She arrived in a blinding light and then remained hidden until she was discovered by three prospectors. If you meet her she will be the oldest woman you ever meet. She is the Old Woman Meteorite, the second largest meteorite found in the United States and after several moves she now resides at the Discovery Center of the Bureau of Land Management in Barstow, California.
It was late in 1975 when the meteorite was found in the Old Woman Mountains of San Bernardino County. She weighs 6,070 pounds and measures 38 inches long, 30 inches wide and 34 inches high. She is mostly composed of iron, about 6% nickel and small amounts of cobalt, phosphorus, chromium and sulphur.
The Old Woman is not stunning like a shiny precious stone, however she piques
the imagination and begs the question: where did she come from and what is her age? Scientists say she came from the Asteroid Belt located in an elliptical orbit around the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. She was born as a fragment from a collision of asteroids. She refuses to tell her age.
When a meteoroid tumbling through space enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor as it heats to incandescence due to friction caused by the pull of gravity. If it reaches the ground before it vaporizes, it becomes a meteorite. That is what happened to the Old Woman.
Moving the Old Woman was a problem, one that was solved by the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363. She was later trucked to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and in 1980 the Smithsonian returned her to the California desert where she remains on display.
Two full-size Old Woman replicas are displayed at other museums in Southern California, but Barstow’s meteorite is the original.
Located at 831 Barstow Road in Barstow, the Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. The Center also features hands on exhibits for children, a native plant and animal habitat, a secret garden and a pond. There is also a gift shop, art work and docents on hand to lead tours and answer questions. For more information, call (760) 252-6000. ~ Claudia
Suffering from Cabin Fever,
on Mother’s Day, Rebecca, Hannah
and I went in search of wildflowers.
We saw a few off Gorman Post Road,
but there was no sign of them in the Antelope Valley as the peak was a couple weeks earlier. However, we could see some color high on the surrounding mountains. So, we ventured to Sandberg on the Old Ridge Route, had the place
all to ourselves (important in the
age of Covid), and found the last of
this season’s poppies.
By Bob Jaussaud
Recently a small group of Desert Explorers decided to take a pandemic break. We observed the Covid-19 guidelines and kept our participant number low. We headed into Gold Butte National Monument and worked our way south to what remains of the Lakeside Mine:
four cabins, an outhouse and some rusting mining equipment. This copper mine worked from about 1937 until the last ore shipment sometime in the mid-1950s. It’s at the end of a rough road with spectacular views of Lake Mead.
We camped our ﬁrst night at what remains of the town, Gold Butte. Gold was discovered in Gold Butte in 1905 and a tent city quickly sprang up. Supplies were hauled by wagon from St. Thomas on the Virgin River. At its peak, Gold Butte had about 2,000 residents, a post ofﬁce, a store, a saloon and a brothel, but by 1910 the boom was over and the town almost disappeared.Only a miner (Art Coleman) and a cowboy (Bill Garrett) remained. They stayed for 40 years and their graves are still there along with a few remnants from the past.
The next morning we headed down Grand Wash. Off the road to our left we saw the sad ruins of Seven Springs Ranch. It was evidently occupied until 2019 and has been the site of recent BLM burro roundups.
Our lunch stop was at Tassi Ranch. It was and still is an oasis in the desert. Ed Yates built his home there in the 1930s and stayed until 1947. What remains of his ranch house still reﬂects his artistry and love. On the hillside above we found a ﬂowing stream. What a beautiful spot! Even so, it was hard to imagine living there in solitude for over 18 years.
From Tassi Ranch we worked our way to the top of the plateau via the Nutter Twist Road. This shelf road was a challenge, even for our well equipped vehicles, but we managed to make it.Then we inched our way through a cattle roundup in Hidden Valley and ended our day camped high amid the pines and unexpected frost that night.
The morning sun was very welcome as we broke camp and headed for Mt. Dellenbaugh. Our goal was to hike to the peak and ﬁnd the inscription left by William Dunn, one of the three men who left the Powell Expedition to climb out of the Grand Canyon and disappear. We made it to the top, but became separated. Attempting to regroup, most everyone missed seeing Dunn’s inscription. The view from the peak is well worth the climb, though.
For our last night we descended through Coyote Canyon to camp lower and warmer at the Grand Gulch Mine in the Parashant National Monument. NPS claimed on their interpretive sign that this mine had the “richest copper ore ever produced in the Arizona Territory.” Even so, it was not very proﬁtable because of transportation costs. Ore was hauled by horse and wagon to Salt Lake City during World War I but the mine was shut down at the end of the war. It was reopened to supply copper for World War II and they used heavy gasoline powered Euclid trucks to haul the ore out. Mining continued until 1955 when the main buildings burned down.
On this adventure there were some challenging roads and scary situations but we prevailed without incident and were rewarded with delicious camp meals thanks to Ron, Mignon and Sue.
Anza Borrego and More
By Marian Johns
A few weeks ago I went camping with son, David and his two kids despite the stay at home advisory. We didn’t socialize with anyone so we felt safe enough. We spent four days having a fine time.
We took my “new” Tacoma and David’s 4Runner and headed down to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park where we first checked out Seventeen Palms. The kids had great fun playing in the mud along the shore of Clark Dry Lake; it obviously wasn’t dry at all. They also had fun throwing rocks in Coyote Creek and even tried playing baseball with rocks and a stick. They also marveled at the Pumpkin Patch and Giant Scorpion and Giant Cricket and the Giant Sand Dragon near Borrego Springs. Didn’t see many wildflowers but the ocotillo were in their prime.
Next we went to see the mud pots near the southern end of the Salton Sea. I had recently gone on Bob Jacoby and Bill Neill’s DE trip there and I thought the kids would like to see them too.
When we tried to take the Box Canyon road up to I-10 and the Joshua Tree National Park southern entrance it was blocked with multiple closed signs. So instead we drove up Berdoo Canyon. There used to be a paved road there, but it’s mostly gone now and the drive up the canyon is pretty rough, but we did find a nice spot to camp that night on a short section of the old paved road.
The next morning we tried to continue on up the canyon but soon came to a locked gate at the park boundary. Turns out Joshua Tree National Park was totally closed, so we spent an hour poking around the remains of an old mine and then headed for home. ~ Marian
`My Personal Dust Devil
By Claudia Heller
There I was sitting on a soggy stream bank spying on three killdeer and feeling the dampness of the ground seeping through my jeans. The Death Valley sun was high over Salt Creek and black storm clouds hovered threateningly over the mountains in the distance.
Before I saw it, I felt its presence. A strange and eerie feeling came over me, as if something were about to happen.
As I looked over the small cliff some 500 feet away, I saw it – my own personal dust devil swirling frantically toward me. It slid neatly down the cliff, soft sand forming a perfect funnel, thick and brown at the base, tapering to beige and then disappearing into the brilliant blue desert sky. It travelled some 100 feet to the river, and as it passed over the shallow waters I could see the ripples in its wake swirl then die down as it passed.
My dust devil passed within a few feet of me and despite its furious appearance it lightly kissed my cheek as it spun by. I watched it skid across the desert floor behind me and then off into the distance, disappearing behind a rocky hill.
My first thought was to tell someone, but then I thought “who would care?”
A close encounter with a dust devil is a personal experience one must live, for the thrill is difficult to explain. ~ Claudia
Backroad Discovery Route Update
By Bob Jacoby
In the past we have talked briefly about the Backroad Discovery Route (BDR) program. BDR is actually a non-profit volunteer organization whose primary purpose is to create off highway routes and networks. The primary focus is on motorcycle travel, but 4x4 folks are welcome also. Indeed, most of the trails and routes they have researched are suitable and appropriate for 4x4 activities.
At this time ten routes have been developed and documented. These routes are not only in the West but in other parts of the country as well. Most of the routes are several hundred miles in length and incorporate existing roads and trails. These routes include the following: Northeast U.S (New England), Mid-Atlantic, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Washington, and Southern California. In addition, trails covering Wyoming, Northern California, Montana, and the Southeast are currently under development.
The BDR works with government agencies and local officials to keep these roads open. In many cases, the existence of
these trails has generated significant visitation and has provided a boost for small towns along the routes.
The Southern California Route which was just recently established is a good example of what to expect on all the BDR Trails. The 817 mile route has been divided into eight sections as follows:
• Section 5 – Furnace Creek to Racetrack (111 miles). This section is entirely within Death Valley and includes a stop at Ubahebe Crater and the
Racetrack. This makes for a reasonably short and easy fun day.
If you really enjoy extended trips, as I do, and are into a wide variety of scenery and road conditions, this is an enticing tour which could take as long as a week to make all the stops. You can download GPS coordinates and much other useful information from the BDR website (ridebdr.com). As for me, I want to do all 10 of the trips they have put together. Driving dirt road in New England really sounds unique! ~ Bob
by Dave Burdick
During the first part of March the Lake Mead National Park had just been closed to “Pleasure Seeking Adventures,” which included enjoying wild flowers on federal land. However some believe that wildflowers are Essential in our “Pursuit of Happiness.” About this time I received a call about a desert run, destination unknown.
As we left town we wound around over to the gas line road, then over to the powerline road, through the back yard to the sandy wash, to the narrow canyon. We were not being trailed.
“Do you know where we are?” “Yes – but I have no idea how we got here.”
Among the yellow and white flowers were petroglyphs. As we continued toward the lake the flowers’ colors were changing at different elevations. The cholla cactus needles looked soft and the beaver tail were loaded with bright pink flowers.
We had lunch up the lake on a beach and headed back. All protocol was followed so we could come back again soon. Thankful for a great day. ~ Dave
by Dave Burdick
Eight years ago friends in Searchlight, Nevada invited me to join then on a “Desert Run,” which was the start of my passion with the Eastern Mojave Desert. On a cold March day in an open car we wound around on rough dirt roads by strange plants, by springs, over mountain tops and down sandy washes, ending up on a bench with remains of buildings and across the wash an odd looking stone garden planter. Someone in the group called it an “arrastra,” Spanish for “mining mill,” a circular rock lined pit used for crushing or grinding ore to a fine sand.
The arrastra had four large stones which were attached to horizontal beams by chains to a center hub or axle often powered by man or mule. This modern arrastra, however, was powered by an automobile engine (missing) to a standard transmission, driveline, and rear end complete with brake drum. Next to the arrastra was a mine shaft that went straight way down, marked “ STAY OUT & STAY ALIVE.”
The group of off roaders explored around, had lunch, and headed home. I was hooked and soon I bought a Jeep Wrangler.
Several years later I went looking for the arrastra. I was sure I remembered where it was, but it was not there. For several years we searched, asked around, about its location, but no luck. Then last year my grandson was driving me up a sandy wash and drove by it.
STOP! There it was, not supposed to be there, but there it was.
This year I was leading the friends who originally took me there and it was not there, lost again. Two trips later it was found, eight years to the day from the first “Desert Run.” ~ Dave
Adventures with Maranatha
By Marian Johns
Bob Jaussaud’s article in the last newsletter about his fun trip around the USA in 1966 got me thinking back to that year and what I was doing that same summer.
At that time I was married to my first husband, Don Cox. The previous year – 1965, we convinced ourselves that we needed to buy a 4x4 so we could explore the backroads of the desert. We purchased a used Jeep truck – a 1960 FC170 which is a rather odd looking vehicle. FC = Forward Control; it had a nine ft. bed. The previous owner was a Baja Missionary who dubbed the truck, Maranatha, which is supposed to mean ‘The lord cometh” in Aramaic. My father and Don’s brother helped us build a camper for it. That year, we drove it across the USA to Woods Hole, Massachusetts where Don had a summer job at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. At the end of that summer, we drove home via the Trans Canadian Highway – from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
Then, the following summer of 1966, we, along with my mom, my brother, Bill, and my Uncle Fred, in my parent’s 1965 4x4 Chevy truck undertook a memorable trip to South America. (My dad couldn’t go because of his job.) But Don and I and Bill were students and had the summer off. Likewise, my mom also had the summer off because she was a teacher. I can’t remember what my Uncle Fred did about his job.
I had been inspired to make such a trip by a book I read titled 20,000 Miles South about a young couple’s trip in 1955 from Alaska to the southern tip of South America in their WWII amphibious Jeep.
Preparation for our trip took considerable
planning – getting multiple-entry visas for all the countries we would be passing through and getting a document – a Carnet Aduana which essentially said we promised not to sell our vehicles in any of the countries we visited. A substantial bond was required by AAA to issue us this necessary document.
Our trip down through Mexico and Central America was fairly uneventful. We were able to drive the Pan American Highway all the way to Panama. However, in Panama, there was (and still is) no road across the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. Luckily, we found a Mexican freighter leaving for Columbia the next day and they agreed to transport our two vehicles to the port of Buenaventura.
We found the roads in South America in fairly good condition as they were used extensively for local commerce. However, border crossings were a hassle. Much time was wasted with officials who were not familiar with folks like us from the USA – driving into and out of their countries. Then, we found numerous check points within each country we passed through. And these, like border crossings took considerable time. Officials had to record passport information for each of us and then the vehicles’ documents. With our limited time, many miles to cover and check points with which to contend, we found that there wasn’t too much time left to be sight-seeing tourists. At some point we picked up a hitch hiker who told us not to bother stopping at these check points. We tried it and it worked – we just gave a friendly wave to the officials and drove on by; no policía ever chased after us.
There were only a few places where we needed four-wheel drive – and those were river crossings.
The scenery along the way changed from tropical to desert between Ecuador and
Peru. Even though Peru was more desolate than the other countries we passed through, I found it to be the most interesting. In northern Peru, we stopped for lunch one day and then did a little exploring when we noticed man-made walls of a Pre-Columbian structure. Further snooping revealed a looted cemetery with bones, fabrics, large funeral ollas and beads strewn about. I spent several hours sifting through the sand to find tiny beads.
Of course, the highlight of Peru was Machu Picchu. Lake Titicaca and Cuzco were also impressive. The drive from coastal Peru to the Altiplano – sea level to 12,000 feet – was an unpleasant surprise. We all spent a miserable night with altitude sickness.
Our furthest destination was the ruins of Tiahuanaco in Bolivia which wasn’t too far from the Peruvian-Bolivia border. There, we were forced to turn around and head for home; we had many miles to cover and we still had to ship our trucks again, at some point, back to Panama.
When we reached the port Guayaquil, Ecuador, we looked for a freighter to take us back to Panama. Unfortunately, we found most ships going north were headed for Europe and had no reason to stop in Panama. After a week of pestering different shipping companies, we finally found that the Italian Line had a ship that would be stopping in Panama, but it wasn’t due in Guayaquil for another week.
So we opted for a short trip north along the coast of Ecuador. Not far beyond the town of Manabí, we found a nice beach to drive on – so smooth, we could make good time that way. But… under the sand lurked the mud of a nearby river. You guessed it! Disaster! The Chevy settled down to its axles in that mud and... the tide was coming in and it was getting dark. It soon became
apparent that there was no way to dig ourselves out so Bill hiked to the nearest village and hired some fellows with a big, dual-wheel truck and some very large planks to pull us out. It took them most of the night to extricate the Chevy. The tide did come in, but fortunately it didn’t reach the engine. Then, we spent the morning removing all four wheels to clean the sand out of the brakes; so ended our leisurely drive along the coast. We tucked our tails and returned to Guayaquil.
Our ship, the Rossini, did take us back to Panama and through the Panama Canal. We were then deposited in Colón at the eastern end of the Canal. From there we made a beeline for the USA; it took us nine days pushing hard.
On the very last day, poor old Maranatha died; the Chevy towed us the rest of the way home. ~ Marian
Deb Nakamoto and two friends recently hiked several spots in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Joshua Tree NP and the Salton Sea area.
She sent a few of her photos to share.
Geology of Salt Creek Hills
By Bill Neill
The Amargosa region has complex and beautifully exposed geology, and displays the geological history of much of western North America. A good place to start a virtual tour is at Salt Creek Hills, located near Highway 127 midway between Baker and Shoshone.
The oldest rock unit at Salt Creek Hills is Paleozoic limestone, deposited from tropical seas on a slowly subsiding continental shelf. The continental margin of western North American formed and then subsided after a larger continent was split away by rifting, and the separated mass now probably forms Australia or Antarctica. In places the Paleozoic limestone abounds with fossil marine shells, which ancient animals evolved as armor for protection from predators.
In the Grand Canyon, Paleozoic limestone and sandstone layers of similar age are relatively thin and undeformed; whereas the units thicken to the west, forming a wedge-shape geometry, and are faulted and folded from later compressional impacts to the continental margin. These uplifted sedimentary layers underlie much of the Nopah and Resting Springs Ranges east of Shoshone, plus the mountain ranges bordering the north half of Death Valley.
About 450 million years after deposition, and after folding and faulting, the Paleozoic layers near the south end of Death Valley were intruded by molten rock – magma - that fed volcanoes at the surface. The magma crystallized slowly to form coarse-grained granite, light in color because its chemical composition was high in silica and low in iron. The granitic rock is of Jurassic age, somewhat older but similar in origin to granitic rock that underlies the Sierra Nevada. During this period, California resembled the current western edge of
South America, where a major volcanic chain – the Andes – results from subduction of an oceanic tectonic plate offshore.
As the granitic magma crystallized, hydrothermal fluids carried metals including iron and gold into the overlying limestone and formed a small gold ore deposit. In 1849, forty-niners headed west to the California Gold Rush via the southern route – the Old Spanish Trail from Utah – noticed gold specks in Kingston Wash and eventually started mining at the contact between granite and limestone. In 1851 a rock building called the Amargosa House was constructed nearby that is the oldest structure in San Bernardino County. This history is described in the second chapter of Richard Lingenfelter’s 1986 book Death Valley & The Amargosa – A Land of Illusion.
Today the Salt Creek Hills are valuable ecologically as riparian wildlife habitat, where Kingston Wash cuts through the granite hills and provides small amounts of surface water throughout the hot summers.
A small spring named Amargosa Spring and the adjacent gold mine area can be visited by a one-mile hike from the parking area near Highway 127. A well-marked trail crosses the narrow wash with reeds, mesquite and a large Athel grove, then continues northward to the Amargosa House and remains of a 1880s stamp mill.
A field trip to Salt Creek Hills will be part of our Meet the Amargosa weekend next October 25-27 based in Shoshone. ~ Bill